Mother Russia: Former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner Dead At 76

FORMER VICTORIAN PREMIER Joan Kirner — dubbed “Mother Russia” by the Melbourne press — has died this afternoon, aged 76, after a long battle with cancer; becoming the second female Premier of an Australian state in August 1990 after the resignation of John Cain, Kirner presided over a disgraced Labor government that had virtually bankrupted Victoria until it was annihilated at the ballot box by Jeff Kennett in late 1992.

I must confess that one of my favourite memories of Joan Kirner — sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery at the height of the Kennett government, thumbing an ancient magazine — was seeing a big picture of her in a polka-dot dress, and quoted as saying that she didn’t really understand the fuss about her wearing polka-dot dresses because she didn’t own any of them.

Yet this is the paradox of a woman dubbed “Mother Russia” by Melbourne’s newspapers on account of her deep entrenchment in Labor’s hard Left; deeply unpopular in the political sense, she was nonetheless able to poke fun at herself, and for someone who never met her, I suspect that under what I believed to be her deeply odious politics was probably quite a nice lady — even if she was an uncompromising piece of work.

The news this evening that Mrs Kirner has passed away today after a protracted and very public fight with cancer is sad; it is a reminder that just as politics is highly adversarial and conducted in a veritable battle environment, we are people first and foremost: and in this regard it should be noted that her suffering will not continue, and condolences minuted to her family.

I was still living in Brisbane when Mrs Kirner became Premier, although even then, in 1990, I was paying hawk-like attention to events and goings-on in Melbourne; that year saw my first visit to Melbourne as a tourist, and even in the deepening gloom of a recession that hit Victoria far harder than anywhere else in the country, I fell in love with the place, and I remember thinking when I heard she had won the ALP leadership that August that she had been given the shit end of the stick.

Kirner had, of course, been elected to lead the Victorian ALP after it had spent eight years in government under John Cain Jr, whose reputation for economic management had not only been comprehensively trashed by the utter incompetence of his government, but which threatened for a time to undo Labor’s historic mission to professionalise itself and to end decades-long stints in the wilderness in Queensland, Victoria, federally, and to a lesser degree in Western Australia.

Anyone who remembers the gridlocked Melbourne CBD — with trams parked from one end of Swanston Street to the other — well remembers the chaotic final years of that awful Labor government, which oversaw the collapse of the State Bank of Victoria, the Pyramid Building Society and Transcontinental, and as the ALP lurched toward a massive defeat by controversial firebrand Jeff Kennett, it became clear that Kirner really had been left to carry the can for Cain’s mismanagement and the misadventures of his government.

In truth, there is little to recommend her time as Premier, and few initiatives by which she might claim to have left a mark upon the state (although some point to the Southbank precinct and Crown Casino, both brought to completion by the Kennett government, as her legacies).

Certainly, her government was responsible for the introduction of poker machines into Victoria, along with the spike in problematic compulsive gambling that endures to this day; and about the most memorable aspect of her government was the day Kennett — as opposition leader in 1991 — threatened to cancel parliamentary superannuation for defeated Labor MPs on account of the damage they had inflicted on Victoria whilst in power.

Away from office, Kirner was active in advocating for women’s interests, maintaining a long association with the infamous Emily’s List, and served on the board of Museum Victoria.

I wanted to briefly pay tribute to Mrs Kirner; as a poor Premier at the tail end of the worst state government ever seen in Australia, and a figure of fun who was easy to mock and lampoon politically, there was little public evidence of the venom and malice that marked some of her contemporaries: I suspect she did the best she could. Regrettably — and to the lasting detriment of the state of Victoria — her best, very simply, was not good enough.

I think an appropriate tribute, in the context of this column, should defer to the legendary sense of humour she had and — as I indicated at the outset — an ability to poke fun at herself that was and is as refreshing as it is rare among the current crop of parliamentarians in Victoria, Canberra and beyond; those of my vintage and older will remember the night she and her cadaverous upper house colleague, David White, appeared on the ABC’s The Late Show in 1993 in a send up of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Those who remember and those who do not can nevertheless revisit this event here: and I think enjoying a laugh with (or, indeed, at) Mrs Kirner from a long time ago would be a pleasant enough farewell to a controversial, if grudgingly likeable, figure from another era in politics.

Victorian Liberals: We Back Michael Kroger As State President

THE NEWS that the former President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, Michael Kroger, will contest the role when it falls vacant in March is to be welcomed, applauded, and heartily endorsed; at a time the Liberals’ stocks have rarely been lower in the state once hailed as the “jewel” in its crown, we believe Mr Kroger is the likeliest candidate to enact reforms that will refocus the party on its primary purpose: to win elections.

50 days ago, the Liberal Party in Victoria lost government — after a single term — and with it, notched up its seventh defeat from the ten state elections held from 1982 until now.

That dubious achievement was recorded barely a year after the Victorian Liberal candidates — for the ninth time in 12 federal elections over the same period — failed to carry a majority of seats in Victoria despite the Liberal Party forming government nationally after five of those elections; one of the three majorities it scored in Victoria (in 1990) occurred largely as a result of state factors: one of the few genuine instances of an election result at one level of government being unquestionably influenced by goings-on at another.

Regular readers will have seen the blistering critique I published in this column one day after the embarrassing state election defeat last year, and with the benefit of the hindsight provided by even the seven weeks that have since elapsed, there is nothing in that assessment that I believe to be at all in error.

If anything — and with Liberal-led administrations in other jurisdictions and federally experiencing almost identical problems to varying degrees — the urgency to tackle those issues in the Party’s home state have grown even more pressing during that time.

With these observations in mind, I read with interest yesterday that the current President of the party’s Victorian division, Tony Snell, will not recontest the post at the meeting of State Council on 28 March; the declared candidates for the position are recently-retired upper house MP Andrea Coote (backed by state leader Matthew Guy) and former President Michael Kroger.

This column enthusiastically endorses Michael Kroger to return as state President.

Speaking as a rank-and-file branch member of the Liberal Party in Melbourne (and where factional considerations are concerned, completely unaligned) I have unswervingly, over a 25-year period, been prepared to work with anyone with the best interests of the Liberal Party at heart: and on this occasion, there appears to be two very good candidates who fully satisfy that brief.

Coote — a sporadic attendee at branch meetings in my area as an MP, whom I know (albeit not well) and who I hold in high regard — is an impressive and highly capable individual, and with many years’ recent first-hand experience in state politics would in ordinary circumstances seem an excellent choice to become the party’s state President.

But at a time when the Liberal Party’s standing in its own birthplace — the state Liberals boasted for decades was the “jewel” in their party’s crown — is nothing short of abysmal, its Victorian division needs a restructure, not a representative: and having performed in this role once before, delivering reforms that arguably led to the party’s only time in the sun in this state for more than 30 years, it is Kroger who stands out as the obvious, and only, candidate for the job.

I have no doubt Coote is more than able to discharge the role of state President of the party.

But so urgent is the remedial work to be effected upon it that it is critical the job is done properly the first time; and however cruelly, unfairly or otherwise in respect to Ms Coote, it is Mr Kroger’s past record that offers the best guarantee that this malfunctioning branch of a great political institution is whacked back into shape.

Kroger — President in the late 1980s and early 1990s — remains a controversial and polarising figure, and it is a monument to him of sorts that even now, the Liberal Party in Victoria is still often characterised as being split between Kennett and Kroger/Costello camps, although these demarcations have understandably blurred and broken down with time.

But the changes he was instrumental in seeing made in his earlier iteration in the post — tearing down antiquated organisational structures, overhauling and modernising preselection processes, orchestrating the removal of a great deal of deadwood from the ranks of the party’s elected representatives, and providing the party with mechanisms to better manage is political and organisational affairs — arguably underwrote what might have been a second golden era for the Victorian Liberals that has been progressively squandered in his absence.

Some have argued that the gain of nine Labor-held seats at the federal election of 1990 was merely attributable to the rancid, decaying government of John Cain that then held office in Spring Street; the fact remains that the organisational structures introduced by Kroger enabled the Liberal Party to fully capitalise and maximise their political advantage, and the Liberals’ haul of 24 of the (then) 38 federal seats in Victoria has not been bettered, or even equalled, since then: even at elections the party won in landslides in 1996, 2004, and 2013.

Similarly, the election of a Liberal government in 1992 was always likely to be a given, so decrepit and incompetent was the ALP incumbent the party faced, led by Joan Kirner after Cain’s departure from office.

Yet again, it is uncertain (or even unlikely) that the stellar win recorded by Jeff Kennett at the 1992 election could have been achieved with equivalent magnitude had Kroger’s reformation of the Liberals as a political fighting unit and professional electoral outfit not first taken place.

As a Brisbane boy still living in Queensland at the time, many of my contemporaries in the Liberal Party there were wont to regard what Kroger had achieved with great admiration and, indeed, awe: our own division of the party had never really fired a bullet — at the state level, at least — and to say we were impressed would be to understate the matter.

Many of us were regular visitors in Melbourne and some of us moved here permanently; some of those earlier contemporaries were and are in business with Kroger; others have worked with or for him, either in the companies he runs, inside the Liberal Party, or both.

For my part, I have only ever met him once, and then only as a fleeting pleasantry at the state funeral for former Premier Lindsay Thompson; unlike Coote I am unable to provide opinion on Kroger personally and I do not seek to do so.

But the bottom line is that political parties exist to win elections; stripped of fanfare and exposed as what they are in brutally blunt terms, they serve no other purpose whatsoever. The fellowships and friendships and coteries and committees that spring from them can be a great thing, but in the absence of the primary driving mission they would not exist at all.

And from elections wins — irrespective of your political stripe or ideological disposition — the delivery and implementation of policy and its consequent impacts are made possible.

It is on this basis alone that this column welcomes, applauds and heartily endorses Michael Kroger to resume the Presidency of Victoria’s Liberals.

Should he succeed, he will have his work cut out.

A moribund secretariat at 104 Exhibition Street needs and deserves to be gutted and rebuilt from scratch; as in his first stint in the post, a swathe must be cut through the deadwood among the ranks of the party’s elected MPs; and an end — in this state at least — must come to the insidious practice of recycling individuals through executive organisational roles within the Liberal Party (or the augmentation of their ranks with similarly odious persons) who add little or no benefit to the party’s electoral interests, and whose chief activities centre on butt-covering and the prosecution of personal and factional vendettas instead of focusing on the main task: fighting and defeating the ALP at the polls.

There is much more I could say, but in the interests of concision I will try to be circumspect.

I wish to place on record, publicly, an offer to provide whatever assistance may be required and/or sought by Mr Kroger in prosecuting his campaign to resume as President of the Victorian Liberal Party, and note in doing so that I do not have any parliamentary ambitions to pursue.

I do, however, remain in contemplation of whether to continue my membership of the party when fees fall due in March, and should Kroger win the role as President, any inclination to leave it will be immediately abandoned: the kind of fundamental change I believe the party requires is precisely what Kroger as President would deliver.

I would urge all readers with membership of the Liberal Party (or networks that intersect with its membership) to actively help to facilitate Kroger’s election as President; after all, the Liberal Party remains a party for its members, and it is only through mobilisation that this opportunity for basic, structural and desperately needed change can be grasped.

It is the position of this column that in the face of the indisputable problems the Liberal Party faces in Victoria that Michael Kroger represents the very best option on offer to address them, and to begin the hard and at times unpalatable work of internal reform that will yield the electoral success we seek as Liberals in the longer run.

Now Kroger has declared — and especially if he wins — the cacophony of public outrage from all corners of the Left will become deafening: evidence, however perverse, that his resumption of the role at the apex of the Liberal Party in this state is a development they fear.

This alone, in isolation from any other consideration, is reason enough for a Kroger victory to be engineered as decisively and as resoundingly as possible.


An AFL Grand Final Public Holiday? It’s Just A Dumb Ruse

THAT “ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER” — an event hard-wired into the DNA of sports mad Melbourne — is today, and as he has for the past three years puerile brat and state Labor leader Daniel “Dan” Andrews is politicising it, seeking to exploit the AFL Grand Final in a cynical grab for the votes of football tragics. This cack-brained plan is just dumb, and is so bad as to beggar belief. The idiocy of this extends far beyond the borders of the state of Victoria.

I trust readers will forgive me today, but in publishing this column over the past few years I have learnt that this is one day of the year that few people are all that interested in hard politics — whether there is much happening or not — and so I thought it an opportune time to talk about something local in Victoria ahead of the November state election that intersects with one of the great annual days in Australian sport: the AFL Grand Final.

And my remarks today, whilst deadly serious insofar as actual electoral politics is concerned, will be rather more light-hearted than is usually the case.

Each year for the past three years, the dopey fool who leads state Labor in Victoria, Daniel Andrews — whose latest “man of the people” initiative is to insist that people should now call him “Dan” — has engaged in an annual ritual of cynical populism in promising that if elected to government, the ALP will legislate a statewide public holiday for the Grand Final.

To fall the day before the game, on the Friday, to coincide with the Grand Final Parade through central Melbourne. Or, bizarrely, to fall the Monday after.

Andrews argues that the Grand Final attracts 30,000 interstate visitors to Melbourne each year, adding $40 million to the state’s economy: assertions that find common ground with the Coalition.

But the Liberals — backed by the state Treasury — have also shown that adding a public holiday would cost the state $1.6 billion in lost productivity, with an additional $200 million impost on retail, hospitality and tourism businesses forced to pay penalty rates on a day that frankly, cannot be justified being made into a public holiday at all (and I’m assuming we’re really talking about the Friday before the game; the idea of a public holiday two days after the event is even more ridiculous than the idea of having one for it at all).

In fact, let’s start with the date itself; gazetting a Saturday, other than Easter or Christmas, a public holiday makes no sense, even if Andrews thinks making this one will gift him the common touch by deifying a day many Melburnians believe is “sacred,” which is why we’re talking about the Friday prior or the Monday after.

There’s an additional problem with all three days — the Friday, the Saturday and the Monday — in that some or all of them usually fall within the school holiday period in Victoria, when many families are already off work, but never mind that. Dopey Dan never lets inconvenient practicalities get in the way of cynical politics.

There would seem little point having a public holiday two days after the Grand Final, so that makes the Grand Final Parade the only “hook” of any substance on which to hang this silly idea. A two-hour procession through central Melbourne, which disrupts inner-city traffic for several hours and wreaks enough havoc for city workers as it is, is hardly a weighty enough event to justify a holiday for it.

Dopey Dan has committed Labor to making a Grand Final public holiday a statewide event, rather than one confined to Melbourne; it’s a noble sentiment that Labor’s shadow Sports minister John Eren should suggest that “people in regional areas could have BBQs, they could have luncheons, pubs and clubs would be full” but I’m yet to find any evidence that the Parade is “event” enough for people in regional Victoria (or even in Melbourne) to have activities on a similar size and scale the very day before they do it for the Grand Final itself.

Then again, Labor is terrified that the remnants of its regional seat gains from the 2002 election will be lost in nine weeks’ time and its prospects of returning to government with them, which perhaps explains why voters in the state’s outer extremities are being promised a public holiday for something going on in Melbourne.

Labor has also tried to justify its pledge with the tacky contention that there is a “six month drought” of long weekends in Victoria between the Queen’s Birthday in June and Christmas; I’ll come back to that in a bit, but this “problem” could easily be solved by moving the Labour Day holiday to October, when it is observed in most other Australian states.

Not that you’d expect a Labor government, with its May Day rhetoric and slavering to militant unions — especially in Victoria — to ever sanction that.

But where this dumb idea from Dopey Dan can really do more damage than any cynical political benefit to Labor could ever outweigh is in the rest of the country, where the AFL seeks to grow the game, and in territory that in some cases is barely better than openly hostile.

A public holiday, limited to Victoria, for the “national game” stands to drive a lot of resentment toward the AFL — even as a state government initiative — and reinforce the perception that Australian football is completely skewed toward Melbourne which, by virtue of ten of the 18 teams being based in Victoria, it inevitably is to some extent anyway.

It might not faze those who live in the other “traditional” football states of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, although the AFL itself has managed to enrage many in Tasmania by trying to create a team in the boondocks of Western Sydney, where no AFL side would ever survive without the millions of dollars the League is pumping in to artificially sustain one, before admitting a Tasmanian side to the competition.

But the code schism that separates Queensland and NSW from the rest of the country when it comes to football can only be riven wider by creating the perception that Melbourne (and Victoria) continue to get ever more out of the AFL that others do not receive; in Sydney (the embarrassment of the oxymoronic Greater Western Sydney “Giants” aside), the Sydney Swans might be able to fill the tiny SCG at home games, but filling a 45,000 seat stadium in a city of 4.4 million should be child’s play.

As for the 80,000 seat Stadium Australia at Homebush, where the Swans play some finals and home and away matches against bigger Victorian clubs, the AFL is flat out filling it at the best of times, and would stand no prospect of ever doing so were it not for the huge fan bases of big Melbourne clubs which are prepared to head north for a weekend to watch their teams play.

And as for Queensland…when I was growing up as a Carlton supporter in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s — well before God ever invented the Brisbane Bears — any admission of barracking for the Blues (or any side in the VFL, as it then was) routinely attracted accusations of homosexuality, mental retardation and the like.

I remember showing up to work at my restaurant management job three days after Carlton won the 1995 Premiership to spend the day doing stocktakes with a boss I had viscerally detested since the day he hired me; this bloke was many things (and “Mr Personality,” if you’re reading, you know who you are) but one of them was that he was football mad.

The “other” football. Rugby League. A game that never made much sense to me, but having grown up around it I treated it as white noise.

I never had much to talk to Mr Personality about — how do you talk to someone you find cretinous and objectionable in every conceivable sense? — but despite the fact I found him a loathsome creature I often tried; that Tuesday morning after the Blues won the flag, thinking football might spark conversation where nothing else had ever succeeded, was one of those times. “Hey, did you see Carlton won the flag?” I asked. “Kicked the living shit out of them!” I beamed triumphantly.

Mr Personality didn’t even look at me. “That’s a stupid game for fuckwits,” he replied.

End of conversation.

The reason I tell these anecdotes is because I don’t think attitudes in the Sunshine State have changed much; Brisbane people are great people but they are also bandwagon jumpers, which is why — when the Brisbane Lions were winning Premierships — colossal local support appeared for the Lions from nowhere, and when they stopped winning, it disappeared.

Now, the Lions struggle for members and revenue; young players desperately don’t want to be drafted there, and many of those who are leave as soon as they can; and the club has haemorrhaged millions in red ink since its last Premiership more than a decade ago.

For all the work the AFL has done trying to build the game in these hostile “frontier” markets, and for all the money it has disproportionately poured into teams in NSW and Queensland at direct cost to the traditional legacy clubs in Melbourne, Australian football will never be the pre-eminent code in those states.

But along comes Dopey Dan from Victorian Labor, with his Victorian-only public holiday for Grand Final Eve. The psychological signal this stupid idea would send would make those difficult northern markets just that bit more difficult.

If Andrews really wants another public holiday in Victoria (and assuming a Labor government would decline to reschedule Labour Day), then a more sensible thing to do would be to make the day before Melbourne Cup Day a public holiday: that Monday really is a waste of time in Melbourne each year, as half the business world shuts down and the other half shows up to twiddle its thumbs on a day that nothing gets done in Melbourne.

It would also give him a four-day long weekend to sell, and the notion of a “Spring Break” that could be used by students to freshen up for their final exams, or for families to grab a quick trip away in what is an often hectic lead-in toward Christmas.

The “One Day In September” is a day in Australian culture and folklore that rivals the Melbourne Cup in significance, or the Boxing Day Test, or even the Australian Open tennis final — not that Australians have won that, let alone dominated it, for decades now.

Dopey Dan and his public holiday for no other reason than trying to hitch the AFL logo to the ALP’s makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and whether you follow an Australian football side or not, if you live and vote in Victoria, you should dismiss it for the joke it is.


AND ANOTHER THING: It wouldn’t be a special Grand Final column without some brief comment and a tip…

On one level I don’t really care who wins today; my beloved Carlton Football Club is not a participant, and that being the case I have no particular allegiance to either of the participating teams.

On another level, however, I have watched what coach Alastair Clarkson has done during his time at Hawthorn with great admiration, envy, and sometimes even awe; I think the Hawks are as worthy of being classified as one of the great football sides of the modern era as Geelong, Brisbane a decade ago, or the Carlton and Hawthorn sides of the 1980s and 1990s.

And despite living in Brisbane until I was 25, I’ve followed VFL/AFL football since I was a kid, and have no affection for interstate sides at all: unless they are playing against the hated Essendon Bombers, in which case I barrack for the interstate team on 100% of occasions.

The Sydney Swans boast a formidable playing list and some real superstars, like ex-Hawk Lance Franklin, but so they should when the AFL has shovelled millions of dollars into the club under the guise of one discretionary allowance or another that most other clubs — and none in Melbourne, except the nearly bankrupt — don’t get.

And whilst the Hawthorn list is ageing and perhaps on its last Premiership attempt in its current cycle, its glut of booming left-foot kickers and its own veritable superstars can more than hold their own against the team money, quite literally, has bought in the Harbour town.

Who do I hope will win? Hawthorn. It might be a traditionalist view, but I don’t like interstate sides winning AFL flags. Unless it’s against Essendon, of course, or Collingwood.

More seriously, who do I think will win? Hawthorn, by 28 points.


We’ll be back to proper politics — and our usual discussion — either later this evening or in the morning.



Victoria: Baillieu Resignation No Pretext For Kennett’s Return

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by former Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday that he will not recontest his seat of Hawthorn at the imminent election in Victoria has ignited a frenzy over who will be anointed in this bluest of blue-ribbon Liberal electorates in Melbourne’s east; one name that has been bandied about is that of another former Liberal Premier, Jeff Kennett, with a return to office also on the storyboard. The idea is a headache Victoria’s Liberals do not need.

It’s a pity that Ted Baillieu, who shouldered a disproportionate burden of arguably the worst aspects of the Liberal Party’s 11-year stint in opposition — and who, depending on who you listen to, had neither the appetite nor the stomach for the job of Premier in the first place — has announced he is leaving state Parliament for good; despite being a far more moderate Liberal than I am he could potentially have been one of the great Liberal Premiers of Victoria.

I was a little disappointed to hear yesterday that Baillieu has decided to vacate his ultra-safe seat of Hawthorn (reversing a commitment made some months ago to recontest it, and serve another full four-year term); he leaves with the very best wishes of this column for his next adventure in life, whatever that may be.

But I am also pleased because — without putting too fine a point on it — Baillieu has been, since his replacement as Premier by Denis Napthine 18 months ago, Yesterday’s Man, and the occupants of safe seats held by margins of close to 17% should either be serving in Cabinet or boast the high probability of doing so within the medium term.

Clearly Baillieu no longer fits these criteria. His departure is thus helpful for the Liberal Party to renew its ranks in the Victorian lower house.

Plenty of names are being bandied around less than 24 hours after his announcement; most are unsurprising, with some talk the resignation was an attempt by Baillieu to shoehorn Health minister Mary Wooldridge — trounced at preselection early this year in the neighbouring safe seat of Kew after her own electorate was abolished in a redistribution — into Hawthorn.

But Wooldridge has been preselected to an upper house seat to keep her in Parliament; that berth — vacated to enable her to run, and over which the Liberal Party attracted more political odium from the ALP than the exercise justified — should now be contested by Wooldridge, lest any move to shift her to Hawthorn reignites either the factional brawl that saw her shafted in Kew, the throwing of sticky muck by the ALP, or both.

It is, after all, 13 weeks from polling day: the Liberals can scarcely afford the indulgence of another vicious preselection fiasco.

I do not intend to offer any commentary on who should be preselected in Hawthorn, save to say that it shouldn’t be Wooldridge given she will remain in Spring Street anyway as a member of the Legislative Council.

The Hawthorn preselection is a matter for local branches in the area and the party’s administrative committee, and as I am based in a different part of Melbourne on the former count and have nothing to do with the latter, I am disinclined to endorse any of the putative candidates: some of whom I know personally, and others I don’t.

But I am certain that Jeff Kennett should not be a candidate, either for preselection, at the polls on 29 November, or as a prospective Premier after that election.

An article by Terry McCrann appeared late last night on the website of Melbourne’s Herald Sun advocating that Kennett not only be endorsed by the Liberals in Hawthorn, but that he lead the Coalition into the election campaign from outside Parliament — a la Campbell Newman in Queensland in 2012 — to resume his place as Premier of Victoria after a 15-year hiatus.

First things first: I was an unabashed advocate of Jeff Kennett, both during the lean years in opposition and after he won office; as a teenager growing up in Brisbane and watching from afar, I found the brash, blunt Kennett very likeable, very credible, and a bit of a character.

Nobody can credibly suggest the train wreck that had to be cleaned up at the time of the 1992 state election — engineered by perhaps the most inept Labor administration to hold office anywhere in Australia during the 20th century — could ever have been fixed without a change of government.

I first started coming to Melbourne as a tourist in 1990, visiting with reasonable frequency until finally moving here for good eight years later; I saw the decay and the desolation and the failure of Cain and Kirner and the misery and gloom this majestic city had been plunged into, and I saw — after 1992 — Melbourne progressively roar back to life under the stewardship of the Kennett government to stake its (rightful) claim to be the best city in the world.

I knew Kennett was in deep strife in mid-1999, when he inadvisedly described Melbourne as Victoria’s “beating heart” and its regional centres as its “toenails;” even so, the anticipated loss of seats went well beyond what any observer either expected or at the time believed. The rest is history.

Having fallen from office, Kennett swiftly resigned both the Liberal leadership and his seat of Burwood, which was won in a by-election by Labor.

And of course, Kennett had a flirtation with returning (and leading from outside Parliament) in 2006 that was countenanced and swiftly abandoned in favour of Baillieu’s ascension to the Liberal leadership in his stead.

Now, let’s be blunt about a few things.

At 66 years of age (and 67 next March) Kennett is no longer the youthful, bounding mass of energy he was as Premier in the 1990s; whilst he would hardly require any time to come to grips with the job of Premier — after all, he held it for seven years — there is no reason to believe incumbent Denis Napthine would make way for him.

Like Kennett, Napthine aspired to the role for years, and after just 18 months (and remaining popular with voters) would seem loath to forego the opportunity to govern in majority — and without the albatross of the insidious Frankston MP Geoff Shaw around his neck or the consequent razor-thin numbers in Parliament to have to contend with.

It is inconceivable Kennett would stand in Hawthorn to serve as a mere cabinet minister, let alone as a backbencher. Enough said.

Even if he were to stand, win, and resume the Premiership, how long would it last? Kennett will be over 70 by the time of the 2018 election. Bob Menzies quit the Prime Ministership at 71. John Howard was beaten at 68. Kennett’s hero, Sir Henry Bolte, quit as Premier of Victoria in 1972 at 64. Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland, 77 when forced from office in 1987, was widely regarded as senile by that time.

And if he stood at the election as Premier-in-waiting and the Coalition lost, what then? The idea Kennett wouldn’t quit Parliament again — forcing a by-election again — beggars belief.

One of the big “unknowns” here is how voters would respond; I think it’s fair to say Melbourne would respond very favourably to a Kennett return. After all, the city stuck to him like glue in 1999, with only a couple of metropolitan electorates falling to the ALP.

But the regions, so affronted by the words and deeds of Kennett and his government to swing to Labor in 1999, for the first time ever in some areas, is a different equation altogether.

Perhaps the conciliatory words Kennett has uttered in their direction ever since would cut the ice; or speaking of ice, perhaps (as one Independent MP said at the time) it would remain the case that hell would have to freeze first before some of those towns and communities ever cast a vote for Jeff Kennett again.

There’s one other aspect of all of this that I find deeply troubling, and it’s this: for Kennett — who first became Liberal leader in 1982 — to resume the role now and fly the flag as the party’s leader would be tantamount to an admission that for more than 30 years, the Victorian Liberals have been unable to produce any other viable leader than Jeffrey Gibb Kennett.

It’s true that there are two outstanding candidates, as McCrann notes — Planning minister Matthew Guy and Treasurer Michael O’Brien — either or both of whom will probably end up in Kennett’s old office in Treasury Place in the fullness of time.

But for Kennett to come back now (and especially if he were to be restored to the Premiership by voters), one or both of those glittering, embryonic careers might very well be cut short or left unfulfilled.

As much as I love Jeffrey — and I do — I think it would send a dreadful signal to the electorate, to the rank and file of the Liberal Party, and not least to the ALP, that the best the Liberal Party can do is return to the leader it had 32 years ago when it lost an election after almost three decades in government.

Frankly, McCrann is right: Victoria is in sore need of a dose of Kennett-style government.

But the best thing Victorian voters can do, as they enter polling booths on 29 November, is to vote for their local Liberal and National Party candidates to secure four more years of Coalition government under Denis Napthine.

Freed of the ridiculous constraints of tight numbers and virtual minority status, and freed of the contemptible presence of Shaw, I believe Napthine will deliver precisely the brand of energetic, get-Victoria-moving government that McCrann, and other Kennett-era nostalgics, clearly yearn for. The hunger to succeed is writ large on his face. The only thing holding him back from getting on with it is the impossibly compromised state of the numbers in Parliament.

McCrann is right about one thing though: the alternative is a union-infested, CFMEU-controlled Labor government led by the immature, puerile, imbecilic dickhead Daniel Andrews, and any government led by him could confidently be expected to make the hopeless Bracks-Brumby years and the ruinous Cain-Kirner years look like a veritable golden age by comparison.

I really want to know what readers* think today; it’s my head refusing to endorse a Kennett return — in my heart, I’d love to watch him tear Andrews to bits and reclaim the job I never thought he should have lost.


*Any rank and file Liberal members reading can post here using a pseudonym. Email addresses will remain confidential.

Jeff Kennett’s Savage Attack On “Mr Bean”

NEARLY FIFTEEN YEARS after his departure as Premier of Victoria in 1999, most people still either love or hate Jeffrey Gibb Kennett; I’ve always been an enthusiastic supporter, and Kennett’s attack on “Mr Bean” today shows that when it comes to destroying an opposition case, he’s still got what it takes.

This post deals with Victorian politics, and specifically, the leader of the state ALP, Daniel Andrews; the beauty of my point tonight is that irrespective of where in the country readers live, Kennett brings the issues underpinning his attack to life in such a way that it’s not hard to equate them with something local.

For example, the Westgate Bridge could as easily be the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Story Bridge or the Tasman Bridge.

We have discussed the Victorian opposition leader a number of times in this column and his numerous shortfalls in particular; those not familiar with these discussions will get a basic overview of the situation here and here.

I’m writing on what at first glance might seem a parochial issue for a national readership base because in many respects Andrews — and his deeply flawed transport policy, that Kennett has ripped into — is representative of the type of cardboard cut-out figure that seems to symbolise Labor’s next generation of parliamentary leaders across Australia.

Indeed, based on what has been emanating from the federal ALP since the election in September and from its “leader” Bill Shorten in the past six weeks, you can almost hear Kennett’s words being extrapolated out to other Labor leaders and to the issues particular to their respective jurisdictions that they seek to extort votes from.

And always remember, when it comes to contemporary ALP policy, honesty of virtually any description is a very loose concept.

I’d ask readers to check out Kennett’s weekly piece for Melbourne’s Herald Sun here; the vitriol and colour of the onslaught are vintage Kennett, and in any case should provide a laugh if nothing else.

That’s the problem: if it weren’t so serious, it would be funny; Kennett caricatures Andrews as Mr Bean, that bumbling, doddling dolt who has provided so much mirth for so many, and he does so to deadly effect.

Where it becomes serious is in the fact he’s talking about the actual policies of a leader (and a party) that aspires to return to government in Victoria in a year’s time; the sheer idiocy of these is compounded by the fact some of what they seek to redress either had its genesis on the watch of the Bracks-Brumby government and/or was ignored by that regime.

Andrews has a further, additional problem come election campaign time that is not covered by the transport plans Kennett pillories: the fact that on his watch as Health minister under John Brumby, he not only acknowledged that public hospital waiting lists had been doctored for PR purposes, but went on record in vigorous defence of the practice.

There is a wider issue, and as I alluded at the outset, it’s the other reason for posting on this point. Look around.

Bill Shorten is leading an attack against the Abbott government based (among other things) on assertions that Tony Abbott “is putting debt up to $500 billion.”

He isn’t and he won’t, directly; the government seeks to raise the legislated cap on borrowings from $300 billion to $500 billion to accommodate the recurrent spending commitments the ALP locked in prior to its defeat — and which will necessitate further borrowings as a result.

As I said, honesty isn’t really a premium commodity at the ALP nowadays.

And if you look further around the country, there are Labor leaders — actual and/or would be if they could be — coming out of the woodwork who all espouse the same magic pudding, sleight-of-hand, baby having a tantrum in a high chair approach to policy, political leadership, and to politics itself in their respective jurisdictions.

It’s too trite to dismiss this as a simple manifestation of all politicians being as bad as each other; the trend now becoming too obvious to ignore, it’s clear that this phenomenon — the smooth-talking boofhead with an answer for everything — is the latest evolution of the Labor leadership template.

There are days I really miss Jeffrey; as a political observer of several decades’ standing it’s hard not to when genuine characters are increasingly rare in politics today as that vocation becomes more formulaic, more sterile, and less spontaneous.

Whether you share such a nostalgic view of Jeff or not, he’s got it about right about Andrews, and he’s got it about right on the Victorian ALP’s transport policy — giving it the only treatment it truly deserves, which is to tear it to shreds and to ridicule it.

Wrong again, Mr Bean.


Abbott Right To Fire Steve Bracks From Plum New York Post

WHILST THE ALP may bleat, the fact is that Steve Bracks should never have been appointed as Australia’s Consul-General in New York; in government, Labor thumbed its nose at opponents as it appointed cronies to plum jobs ahead of certain defeat, and it has no right to object to their dismissal now.

Former politicians, from both sides of the fence, have in the past (rightly) been appointed to diplomatic posts abroad; it has happened before, and it will happen again.

And — for the most part — they represent Australia’s interests properly and well, and to the extent their duties require it.

But I want to make a few points in relation to this particular appointment: observations that also extend to a raft of other appointments made by the Gillard government which either took effect prior to the election, or will shortly do so.

The first — and most obvious — relates to Bracks’ actions after he became Premier of Victoria in 1999.

Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett had appointed Sir James Gobbo as Governor of Victoria in 1997, with a term due to be reviewed in late 2000; the usual term of office for a state Governor is five years, and the shorter commission Gobbo was given reflected uncertainty over the outcome of the referendum due in mid-2000 on the question of a republic.

There were suggestions at the time of a gentlemen’s agreement that Gobbo’s term would be extended to five years, should the role of Governor survive the referendum (as it did); Bracks disavowed any knowledge of such an arrangement, and in any case replaced Gobbo with his own nominee — John Landy — in 2001.

Simply stated, Bracks can hardly dispute the right of a new government to rescind the appointments of its predecessor, irrespective of the bona fides of Gobbo’s arrangements with Kennett.

Bracks is said to be disappointed by his termination, which is perhaps understandable; after all, the post comes with a tax-free salary of $250,000 per annum, and with a New York penthouse apartment — with prime views — said to be worth some $US 25 million.

But unlike, say, Kim Beazley — another ALP appointee in the US, serving as Australian ambassador to Washington — for whom world governance and foreign affairs have been a lifelong passion, Bracks’ primary qualification for his New York posting would seem to be that he defeated Kennett, and that he repeatedly won elections for the Labor Party.

It is true that in his role as Premier, Bracks was involved in inter-governmental dealings in areas such as trade, cultural exchange, and economic development.

Even so, his appointment is forever stained by the circumstances under which it was made, and to this extent the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his putative Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop are absolutely right — and justified — in revoking it.

Earlier this year, sources said to be senior ALP figures (but who would know — as usual, their briefings were on condition of anonymity) backgrounded journalists and bragged of a plot to “warehouse” key Labor figures in light of the looming election defeat.

Under this scheme (a version of which, it was said, had also been executed in the dying days of the Keating government), key appointments would be made in the executive public service, to QANGOs, and to other organisations within the government’s jurisdiction.

The idea was essentially to stack out the ranks of as many useful sinecures as possible to ensure “Labor people” remained fresh for a recall to service, up-to-date with the goings-on of government and the executive, and could act as conduits of information back to the ALP.

Its end goal was to facilitate the return of the Labor Party to government as soon as could practicably be engineered.

To be fair to Steve Bracks, his is not the only appointment made by the Gillard government that was due to commence immediately prior to or following the election, although it will almost certainly occupy the highest profile of them.

And I think this is probably an appropriate juncture to point out that in the aftermath of Labor busily stacking its mates into key roles, now that it has been thrown out of office its focus has switched to devising ways and means — in cahoots with the Communist Party Greens, of course — to defy the mandate secured by Tony Abbott last weekend and to obstruct as many Coalition bills in the Senate as they can.

Especially those most central to the Liberal Party’s election manifesto.

With all that considered, it was interesting to read Tanya Plibersek, quoted in an article in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, calling the new government “petty and vindictive” for dispensing with Bracks’ services before they were ever deployed.

“It is telling that the first act of an Abbott government is to play party politics in international affairs,” she said. “It also reflects a new low in diplomatic practice.”

I contend it is not Abbott — nor anyone in his government — playing partisan games on this occasion, and the only “new low” is situated in the depths the ALP has plumbed.

Because at the end of the day, the Coalition asked the Labor government repeatedly this year to refrain from making politically sensitive appointments, or — at the minimum — to consult it on appointments taking effect either side of the election.

Labor — wilful, gleeful in its incumbency — did neither, preferring instead to effectively tell Abbott to get stuffed.

It can’t say it wasn’t warned.

And when it is remembered that Labor’s motives in stacking these roles out is entirely political — and that the noises emanating from ALP quarters are that it will do everything it can to ignore the election result — Labor’s bleating about pettiness, retribution and vengeance can safely be disregarded.

As for Steve Bracks, he’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.

WA: Echoes Of Kennett In 1999 As Barnett Begins Election Campaign

WESTERN Australians go to the polls on 9 March to elect a state government; Liberal Premier Colin Barnett appears an almost unbackable favourite to win re-election in a landslide. But the Premier’s greatest enemy may well be hubris, and on that score, an ominous breeze blew across the West today.

I read a report in the Perth press this morning, and couldn’t help but think of the predicament of Jeff Kennett in Victoria back in 1999; miles ahead of Labor, and with some baggage to account for after seven years in office to be sure, but whose shock loss — and it was a shock, even to the ALP — owed more to an arrogant and complacent campaign than it did to any merit or overt endorsement of the alternative.

There is a great difference between discipline and hubris, and between arrogance and confidence; the danger lies in knowing where the red line that separates them is.

I put it in these terms because the Premier is absolutely spot-on in his warning to Liberal MPs that they are “one serious mistake” away from losing government.

Any holder of political office faces that brutal reality, and never more so than now.

And the potential problem, in turn, lies both in the fact Liberal MPs appear to have been willing to brief the media — on a background basis, of course — on the material covered at a special party room meeting last week, and in the nature of some of that material itself.

The thing that raises my eyebrows is the fact that all the anonymously quoted Liberal MPs told the Murdoch press about “Colin’s Rules for the campaign,” a phrase also attributed to the party’s state director, Ben Morton, who co-chaired the meeting of Liberal parliamentarians with Mr Barnett.

It just seems to have a whiff of “Jeff” about it; I don’t mean Kennett personally, of course, but rather the ridiculous “Jeff”-centric campaign the Victorian Premier was instructed by his own secretariat to fight, complete with a website ( which featured a computer game based on the Premier driving around the F1 racetrack at Albert Park running key Labor Party figures over in order to “win.”

And with one MP who was present at that meeting revealing that “we were told of Colin’s rules. But before that we were warned: ‘If anybody can’t keep the confidence of this meeting they should leave the room,'” it begs the question what that MP and his/her colleagues think they’re doing divulging most of what was covered to the press.

Especially when one MP noted they were explicitly told not to speak to the media during the campaign “if they could avoid it.”

The MP also revealed that the Liberals were told that if they did speak to members of the press, they were to refer journalists to the Premier’s department.

Readers in Victoria will know that all of this sounds very, very similar to the edicts coming from Kennett’s office in Treasury Place during the ill-fated 1999 election campaign.

It is true that much of what Barnett’s MPs were told is simple common sense; we know that discipline and campaign focus were absolutely central to his message, and we know it because his MPs just had to talk about it — without attribution, the normal course for cowardly media sources to take.

But in a breathtaking show of political naivety, one of the MPs backgrounding journalists said of Barnett that “he said: ‘If things go right, we can get a third term of government'” which even the most amateur of political operatives would recognise as an absolute no-no, given the government hasn’t even won its second term yet, let alone a third.

I think Barnett’s government has been good for Western Australia; in the four and a half years since it took office — as a minority, in Coalition with the National Party — that state has gone from a mere powerhouse to the economic engine room of this country, single-handedly holding Australia out of recession whatever Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard might say, and despite the best efforts of the duo to smother it.

And I disagree with Labor leader Mark McGowan’s assessment that “Mr Barnett thinks they are going to win…I don’t think West Australians like that sort of arrogance.”

If you’re in Mark McGowan’s shoes, all you’ve got to work with is accusations of arrogance and hubris; and whilst I am sounding a note of caution over precisely those issues, it’s not as cut and dried as McGowan might like.

It is true that at various times during his time in office, Barnett has been accused of autocracy and complacency; nothing like the self-inflicted wound carried by Kennett, mind, who once described Melbourne as Victoria’s “beating heart” and the regions as its “toenails,” but certainly enough for him to rightly be conscious of avoiding any charge of hubris.

And on that score, the Premier was dead right to warn his MPs in those terms — even if they were ill-disciplined enough to leak it in defiance of the instructions they were given.

Certainly, the trap is there for Barnett to fall into; whether he does or not will become clear in the next month or so.

Whether McGowan likes it or not, one of the many assets Barnett has to hand in this campaign is a Labor opposition that has been ineffective, remote from the issues facing Western Australia, and guilty by association of being a state division of the reviled Gillard government.

And whilst Western Australia has been governed by Labor for just over half of the time since Federation (with Bob Hawke’s uncle Bert its one-time Premier), it does have a reputation as a “traditional” conservative state, and held good (and even strengthened) for the federal Liberals even as Richard Court lost in 2001 in a result partially attributable to the activities of Pauline Hanson, and even as John Howard was losing government in 2007.

The Coalition starts this campaign with 29 of the 59 lower house seats (24 Liberals, 5 Nationals) and, despite winning nearly 52% of the two-party vote at the last election in September 2008, needs a small uniform swing of 0.2% in its favour to win an outright majority.

Current opinion polling suggests the swing to the Coalition will be more in the order of 7%, which if replicated on 9 March would see the conservatives win at least 40 seats and the Liberals a majority in their own right, meaning Barnett could govern without the National Party if desired or if Coalition talks between the parties break down.

The change in the ALP leadership last year from Eric Ripper to Mark McGowan seems to have been unproductive; the initial spike in voting intention for Labor proved short-lived, and whilst McGowan generally rates more highly as leader and as preferred Premier than did his predecessor, the simple fact is that his numbers are dreadful when compared to those of the Premier.

At the commencement of the campaign proper — and at time of writing — it is virtually unthinkable that the Liberals will fail to be re-elected; indeed, the most likely outcome is that Barnett’s government not only wins, but achieves a thumping majority, leaving a decimated and demoralised Labor Party to lick its wounds.

And, yes, to remain there for at least another two terms.

Yet the same thing was said of Kennett, as he called an election in August 1999 for the earliest date allowable the following month; and whilst a contrast with Barnett’s outfit in WA certainly exists, so do the parallels, which is salient reason for the memory of the Kennett experience to be kept in the back of Barnett’s mind for the next six weeks.